How to Run a Successful Text Message Marketing Campaign

customer service interaction bar chart

Today, marketers are relying on SMS marketing as a must-have channel to meet their business goals.

If you’re brand new to SMS, this post will walk you through the foundational basics and best practices inspired by our thousands of customers. If you are already using SMS, this is a great resource to educate your team about the benefits of reaching your audience on such a direct, owned marketing channel. We’ll include:

SMS (short message service) is the act of sending messages of up to 160 characters, including plain text, numbers, and emojis. MMS, or multimedia messaging service, is a type of SMS marketing that contains multimedia like video, images, audio, and GIFs within the text message (for more industry definitions, check out our SMS Glossary). Like email, SMS has evolved into a direct marketing channel that lets brands connect with consumers in a personalized and measurable way.

From top-of-funnel to post-purchase use cases, brands take advantage of SMS marketing at every step of the customer lifecycle. Businesses can use SMS to capture browsers’ attention to turn them into buyers, drive conversations with current customers to turn them into brand advocates, and, of course, boost brand loyalty to retain customers for the long haul. Creating meaningful, one-to-one customer connections through personalized messaging is at the core of why brands use SMS marketing.

Over the last few years, text has become a valuable differentiator for brands of all sizes who’ve leveraged it to drive revenue, and build loyalty and engagement with their customers. This performance marketing channel personalizes the interactions we have with brands.

Why is SMS marketing so effective?

Most of us have only one cell phone number. We keep it for a long time and are pretty selective about who we share it with. We carry our phones with us everywhere for immediate and reliable communication with our friends, families, and now, brands.

With analytics, channel orchestration, and reporting tools, you can better engage your audiences so they’re receiving content and offers they’re interested in. Brands who use Attentive for text messaging see average click-through rates of 30%, and have driven 20.5% of their total online revenue through SMS.

When it’s done well, SMS can power much more than the acquisition stage of your marketing efforts. It can become a central part of your CRM. Use it to have back-and-forth conversations with your shoppers—whether recommending new products they might be interested in, or answering their customer service questions.

sms compliance text example

  • More traditional retail brands increase online revenue and foot traffic to stores with location-specific campaigns. Take arts and crafts retailer Michaels, which uses Attentive’s A/B testing, geo-targeting, and segmentation capabilities to tailor text messages to subscribers’ preferences. The retailer frequently sends SMS campaigns promoting new products and category-specific offers, and personalizes them based on the items shoppers have browsed online.
  • Food and beverage businesses use SMS marketing text messaging to build diner loyalty with special offers or discounts. They can also drive in-store traffic with localized campaigns. Fast-food restaurant chain Jack in the Box works with Attentive to keep hungry customers in-the-know about local store openings and online delivery offers in their areas. They drive SMS opt-ins on their mobile website using Attentive’s “two-tap” sign-up creatives, and then use geo-targeting to segment subscribers with highly-relevant offers—which boosts online and in-store orders.
  • Entertainment brands and influencers connect with their fans by promoting merchandise and events. For example, country music singer Tim McGraw and his team at EM.Co use SMS marketing to communicate on a more personal level with fans. McGraw uses Attentive’s 2-in-1 sign-up creatives to collect email addresses and phone numbers simultaneously, and sends exclusive content and updates—such as a first look at a new album—via SMS.
  • Media and publishing companies can increase page views and drive paid subscriptions with SMS by segmenting their audience based on interests and past behaviors, like topics they care most about and stories they’ve read. Take Darling—a print magazine focused on women empowerment and inclusion—which uses SMS marketing to communicate their brand mission to readers. Last year, they sent subscribers a comforting, hopeful message to recognize a full year of COVID-19. Darling included a link to download free, inspiring phone backgrounds—a great way to send digital gifts that help build relationships with subscribers.

Darling text example

SMS marketing sits at the nexus of several major consumer behavior shifts—the acceleration of e-commerce (and m-commerce), as well as consumers’ desire to have more 1:1 interactions with brands. Brands across the board—from small and medium-sized businesses to multinational corporations—use text to interact with consumers in more personalized ways, in real time, and at every step of the customer lifecycle.

How does text message marketing work?

Text message marketing relies on a database consisting of your customers’ names, cell phone numbers and other information (geographic region, customer categories, customer interests) that helps you track the sales process.

Text message marketing targets a specific audience.

As with any marketing endeavor, the more information you have on hand and the more specific your customer segments are, the better. Similar to how Facebook ads target people within a certain area, by age, and by interests, the best text message marketing is highly customized and geared toward a specific target audience.

Through SMS marketing, you’re getting as specific as possible and meeting your customers where they are – on their smartphones. By communicating your marketing messages to a targeted audience, you’re able to cultivate more meaningful connections with users and interactions with qualified leads.

Text message marketing acts as part of an overall marketing campaign.

As a marketer, the most important thing to remember about all mobile marketing (i.e., marketing that relies on technical and digital methods to reach mobile users, as opposed to printed materials) is that it should be part of an overall marketing campaign. No company should start text messaging marketing without a game plan on how it all fits together to reach new customers.

Text messaging isn’t appropriate for every marketing scenario. Yoni Ben-Yehuda, head of business development at Material Good, advises marketers to use it for things like a delivery status, a secondary message after you download a certain mobile app or program, a receipt of purchase, or an exclusive discount. Text message marketing is only effective for brands with an audience that prefer this form of communication.

“A text is more personal than an email, so if you’re contacting the user and they’ve never heard of you … you’ll likely be considered spam,” said Ben-Yehuda. “When the brand recognition is present with the user and they’re familiar with your company or products, offering them content via text can be efficient.”

Mobile marketing channels, which include SMS, social media, email, and other forms of marketing, should all complement and benefit each other, thus contributing to your company’s overall mobile marketing campaign.

How do I set up text advertising?

Text message marketing is a distinct and effective way to stay in touch with your existing customers, but only if you do it right. First, you must secure the legal right to communicate with customers via text, lest you run afoul of Federal Communications Commission regulations.

Once you have customers’ permission, make sure your text messages are on brand and valuable to them, rather than being annoying or intrusive. If you follow these steps, your SMS campaign can build trust in your brand and keep your products and services top of mind among your customers.

Some companies start their own database for text message marketing to send bulk messages, sometimes relying on a third-party service such as Twilio for the actual transmission. Of course, a small business or startup can conduct SMS marketing using their own campaign and by sending group texts.

Businesses often work with an SMS text messaging provider such as Twilio, TrueDialog, Trumpia, or SimpleTexting to handle some of the database collection, legal issues, and actual text messaging transmissions. These companies can provide a quote for bulk text campaigns and text message marketing according to your demographic and customer segment.

Additionally, SMS marketing software from companies like EZ Texting and Braze provide more services than simple database collection and transmission. You can use this kind of marketing automation to create a campaign and track its success.

6 ways to grow your SMS marketing subscription list

1. Promote your business texting number

The first step to texting your customers is to let them know they can. Displaying your business texting number sounds like a simple step, but it’s often forgotten. There are numerous ways to promote your SMS number. If you have a brick-and-mortar, you can include a print ad at checkout with a phrase or number to opt-in to text messages.

2. Offer an incentive for mobile opt-ins

Dollar-off discounts are the number one incentive for signing up for an SMS program. Most people sign up to receive promotional messages from a business, hoping they’ll receive a coupon to use for an item or service they’ve been looking at.

3. Make it easy for customers to opt-in

The easier it is for customers to opt in, the more likely they are to sign-up. Besides advertising your texting number in places that customers are potential to look, consider using simple phrases like “WELCOME” or “HELLO” for first-time customers to text in to your number. You can also use a short code instead of a long phone number to collect opt-ins.

Another way to make it easier for customers to sign up for SMS is to ask if they would like to receive text messages from your business when they’re checking out online or in person.

4. Segment your SMS marketing lists

If you want to be more strategic in your SMS marketing, consider segmenting your customer list; Segmenting your messaging targets customers with more personalized messaging, increasing your chances of getting sales. Some segment lists to consider are one for coupons and promotions, a waitlist or product release segment, and one for VIP customers.

5. Build a referral program

Another way to bring in new business is to create a referral program for existing customers. You can offer rewards or points for customers who get their friends or family members to sign up for text marketing with your company. Studies show that customers acquired through referrals have a 37 percent higher retention rate than those acquired through other means.

6. Use MMS to improve communication

A multimedia messaging service, more commonly known as MMS, is the ability to send files, videos, photos, and other forms of media via text. With your marketing campaigns, you can send barcodes, sales graphics, and more. Fifty-one percent of consumers are more likely to purchase if they receive a text message with images and media.


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